TBT: Beware the Agapanthus

Agapanthus SignThe odd but mysterious home built in the thorn forest was always a curiosity for those who did not have the privilege of visiting it. Quinta Mazatlan’s builders and owners, Jason and Marcia Matthews, selected this piece of property for its geological and geographical location: geological because they had access to natural gas and a water well, and geographical since it sits on a knoll and is way out of town but close to the airport.

Needless to say, they liked their privacy and didn’t welcome unwanted guests. At the entrance of the gated property sat a sign that read, “WARNING: BEWARE OF AGAPANTHUS. IF ATTACKED, BACK AWAY SLOWLY.” Many would-be intruders would be deterred, not knowing what Agapanthus really was. Was it a vicious animal or some kind of deranged person? With a little research they would have realized that Agapanthus is the scientific name for the stunning – and innocent – Lily of the Nile plant. Agapanthus is an easy-to-grow perennial which produces colorful spheres of blue or white trumpet-shape flowers in summer and fall.

agapanthus.2Though the sign still exists at Quinta Mazatlan, we extend a warm welcome to everyone. Quinta Mazatlan is the City of McAllen’s urban sanctuary that continuously works to enrich people’s lives by sharing knowledge about birds, plants, and environmental stewardship in South Texas.

Do you enjoy reading the Throw Back Thursday posts each week? Mark you calendars for Fridays at 10am October-April. We will soon be starting up our historical tours of the grounds and mansion!



By Carol Goolsby

So many signs of spring will greet you if you take a stroll through nature in March.  Finding the quintessential “sign of spring” can raise a bit of debate, however.

Spring-horse cripler

The Horse Crippler blooms in spring with pink to red-orange flowers in the Quinta Mazatlan native cactus garden.

Perhaps it should just be nature’s show of flowers.  Every year at this time, as the sun progresses northward toward its summer solstice, it triggers an age-eternal response in “angiosperms” (the flowering plants) to begin growing flowers.   As hungry bees, butterflies, and other insects emerge from their wintertime “sleep”, plants respond by producing nectar near their pollen. The flower petals and scents we humans enjoy so much in springtime are truly meant to be invitations for pollinators to stop by for a meal.

Some particularly spectacular floral blooms are found on our native cacti.  The Horse Crippler, Strawberry Pitaya, Mammalaria, and Rainbow Cacti have all recently begun blooming in shades of purples, pinks, oranges, and yellows.  Their rich petal colors are as mesmerizing as the intricate arrangement of their pistils and stamens inside the bloom.

Spring-cowpen daisy

A meadow of wildflowers, including bright yellow Cowpen Daisy, celebrates springtime in Ebony Grove.

Out in the meadows and other sunny areas, wildflowers are now blooming.  Prickly poppy, Verbena, Bladderpod, Cowpen Daisy, Lazy Daisy, and Tiny Tim have recently bloomed.  Their sudden emergence in Quinta’s Ebony Grove looks like they’ve been invited to an annual “Sun over Mazatlan” plant gala.

Once the eyes have finished dancing with the flowers, the heart turns its attention to other compelling signs of spring in the LRGV.  This time of year, migratory birds, begin their journeys back to raise their young in protein-rich grain fields up north.  Quinta Mazatlan staff ornithologist Erik Bruhnke saw 500 Turkey Vultures flying overhead this week.  “Be on the lookout for Scissortail-tailed Flycatchers this time of year,” he mentioned.  Over 500 bird species have been seen in the LRGV, many of which migrate through during spring.  When they stop through the forest at Quinta Mazatlan, their chorus of birdsong can trip one’s “heart-springs.”


The honey-scented springtime blooms on Guajillo trees lure in pollinators such as this native hairstreak butterfly.

But the “quintessential” sign of spring for me is the sudden, very subtle transformation of a brown gray landscape….into a vibrant forest of green.  Trees suddenly seem to come back to life, displaying fresh new leaves in various shades of light green.  No more impressive example of this are the long lime-green leaves of the Honey Mesquite Tree.  It is this time of year which Mesquite trees seem happiest. Together with the experience of feeling the softness of the new green leaves of the Montezuma Bald cypresses, or marveling at how the Black Willow leaves sway over Ruby Pond, or being fascinated with how the Night-blooming Cereus cacti stalks go from dark green to light as they grow new tips (like multi-colored green popsicles might look), the walk out to Ebony Grove to see the Mesquite trees this time of year…is simply therapeutic.

Or…perhaps…is it that the quintessential sign of spring in the LRGV, is the impact of nature’s beauty…on the human spirit.  The sun only passes over this earth in this way for a short window of time every year. Just go outside…and watch what happens…to you!  Join us at Quinta Mazatlan for a Songbird Stroll on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8am, Garden Walk on Wednesdays at 10am, Thursday Speaker Series at 6pm, and History Tours on Fridays at 10am.  For more information please visit http://www.quintamazatlan.com.

TBT: Agriculture at the Mansion


Even though the photo is fuzzy, you can still see the rows of trees in the orchards that used to surround the mansion.

Quinta Mazatlan has been home to two avid pioneers in agriculture. Jason Matthews had a 1,450 square foot greenhouse located on the east side of the estate. This is where Mr. Matthews tried many agricultural experiments, including the study of hydroponics. After many trials and errors, he had success in the correct combination of nutrients and distribution of nutrients to grow tomatoes. It is reported that the U.S. military used the techniques that Mr. Matthews developed at Quinta Mazatlan to grow tomatoes in Guam and feed soldiers in World War II.4EBoxOrangespostcard

Frank Schultz was the second owner of Quinta Mazatlan and the owner of Crest Fruits in Alamo, Texas. While visiting a friend, Dr. Webb, during citrus harvest season, a worker brought them six extra-large grapefruits. After noticing a faint blush of red on the skin of the fruit, they sliced it open and it was ruby red in color. This was the inception of the Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit. Shultz took this rare fruit and created a marketing campaign called “A Fluke of Nature”. He created a direct mail order enterprise to deliver “Royal Ruby Reds” to your home. These grapefruits were large, weighed more than one pound, were vibrant in red color, flowed with natural sweet juices, and were able to stay that way for weeks.grapefruit_zpsed8931d9

Both Mr. Matthews and Mr. Schultz cultivated the thorny brush land around Quinta Mazatlan to grow various fruits and vegetables. Today, we are restoring the land back to its original existence with various south Texas native plants to attract numerous birds and butterflies.

Want to learn more about history of Quinta Mazatlan? History tours are offered every Friday 10am-11am and are included in General Admission, $2.00 Seniors (65+) and $3.00 Adults. Groups with 15 or more are required to call in advance to schedule a Private Tour.

House aerial

Mr. Matthews had a 1,450 sqaure foot greenhouse located on the east side of the estate (top right corner of the photos) that was later destroyed by a hurricane.

Happy 151st Birthday to Wilbur Scoville!

An American scientist, William Scoville created the “Scoville Scale” which is used to measure the spiciness or heat levels of chili peppers. (Photo courtesy of wikipedia.com)
 South Texas is home to the Chile Pequin (Capsicum annuum) which is the smallest of all peppers- but don’t let its small size fool you! This tiny pepper values from 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).

These tiny peppers are a favorite snack of the state bird of Texas- the Northern Mockingbird. (Photo courtesy of Brian Sullivan via allaboutbirds.com)

Want to learn more about how history, native plants, and local birds are all interconnected? Join us for one of the tours we offer each week: Songbird Strols are Tuesday and Saturday at 8am, Garden Walk and Talks are Wednesdays at 10am, and History Tours are Fridays at 10am. All tours are included with the price of admission.

DIG-IT at Quinta Mazatlan with Wildlife Gardening Classes for 2016

A New Year means making some fun and simple resolutions like gardening in your yard to provide homes for wildlife.  Sign-up now for the Backyard Habitat Steward program on Tuesdays, February 2nd to March 8th, six fun hands-on classes from 9 to noon!  Each week, the best experts in the valley will provide their expertise for your garden.

Quinta Mazatlan begins the series on February 2nd with an introduction to Valley Ecology and a native tree tour by horticulturalist Silvia Barr.  On February 9th Drew Bennie will speak on Rainwater Harvesting, and Ed Kuprel, Edinburg Urban Forester, will demonstrate tree planting and maintenance.  How to attract birds and butterflies to your wildlife garden is important information provided by Carol Goolsby and John Brush on February 16th.  The 23rd brings Mike Heep and his native plants, for sale to enhance your yard.  The duo of Allen Williams and Joe Zuniga will cover landscaping design and tools on March 1st.   Closing the series on March 8th is Ken King author of Plants of Deep South Texas and Delilah Martinez with the City of McAllen Recycling Center.

Please contact Carol Goolsby at Quinta Mazatlan, (956) 681-3370 to reserve your seat in this wildlife gardening class. The $60 fee covers your program binder and other materials.  For more information please visit http://www.quintamazatlan.com.

Backyard Habitat 2015 (FALL flyer)

Backyard Habitat Steward 2016 (jpeg)

Emerging Red-bordered Pixies

Working at a World Birding Center is a different experience every day.  Habitat for the birds creates habitat for other animals, and you never know what your day will be like when you go to work!

Last week, Kelly, our recreation supervisor, noticed that there were a large amount of Red-bordered Pixie chrysalises on the Guamuchil (or Monkey Pod) tree in the parking lot.  Since we had a large group tour later that morning, she suggested we take the visitors to the parking lot to show them something new.

Red border pixie chryalis

Four chrysalises found on the trunk of the tree after the butterflies emerged.

When we got down there, we noticed some of the Red-bordered Pixies had emerged!

The Red-bordered Pixie’s entire life cycle takes place in and around its host tree, the Guamuchil, which is in the pea family.  Butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of  leaves in groups of 10-30.  Fuzzy white caterpillars emerge after a few days and dine on the leaves of the tree.  The caterpillars continue to feed and grow for up to three weeks.   The chrysalis, which looks black and light green at first, is not very thick, and the caterpillar can usually be seen through the covering.   They are almost always attached to the trunk or large branches of the Guamuchil.  As the caterpillar transforms into a black butterfly, the chrysalis begins to take on a darker hue.  Sometimes you can even see the red spots the butterfly is named for!  Before the butterfly emerges, it produces a liquid that softens the shell of the chrysalis. It also uses two sharp claws located on the thick joints at the base of the forewings to help make its way out. Once emerged from the chrysalis, the butterfly will usually sit on the empty shell in order to expand and harden its wings.  It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours for a butterfly’s wings to completely dry.  This timing is usually varied according to the size of the butterfly.

QM John Brish pixies Dec FB

John showing the chrysalises to a private tour group.

The Red-bordered Pixie (Melanis pixe) is McAllen’s city butterfly and a South Texas speciality.  They are easily identified by their striking colors and pattern.  These small butterflies are mostly black with small red dots where the wings connect to the body.  The forewing (the large part of the wing near the head) has yellow tips.  The hind wing has a band of red spots along the outer edge.  Some Red-bordered Pixies have more of a yellow or orange band of spots on the hind wing.  These butterflies are just over an inch and a half wide.

red bordered 2

This pixie just emerged and is resting on its chrysalis while its wings spread out and harden.

Red-bordered Pixies are part of a group of butterflies called metalmarks.  They are often found perched on the underside of leaves with their wings wide open.  They prefer to stay out of direct sun and are more active in the evenings or on overcast days.  The Red-bordered Pixies do not seem to move very far away from the tree they were born on, and a few are almost always seen flitting around the parking lot and the main house no matter what time of year it is.

QM Red Border Pixie 7 Dec FB

The Red-bordered Pixie avoids the hot sun by hiding in the leaves or on the trunks and branches of trees and bushes.

This small insect is one of the most colorful butterflies in the American tropics. The Red-bordered Pixie is sometimes called the Mexican Pixie because it crosses the border into Texas from Mexico. Their range is from the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas south to Costa Rica.

QM Red Border Pixie 6 Dec FB

This pixie is resting in the shade cast by a leaf.

Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center is proud to have these beautiful butterflies living and thriving among us.  Be sure to look for them next time you visit!



Create a Bird Café!

Great Kiskadee eating

Join us at Quinta Mazatlan from 10-11 a.m. on Wednesdays this December for our Garden Walk & Talk tour on how to Create a Bird Café to learn about plants that provide food for birds as an easy way to entice them to your garden.

The Valley is a great place for watching birds. Simply planting native plants helps attract and sustain birds in your backyard. As we walk through Quinta Mazatlan’s gardens, you will have the opportunity to see established native plants of different heights, shapes, and types that are great food sources for birds, including hummingbirds. You’ll be able to create your own Bird Café in your garden, and sit and enjoy viewing feathered visitors all year long.

The garden tours are led by Silvia Barr at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen.  She grew up where tropical plants are native and has lived in places where the native vegetation is coniferous forests, deciduous forests, or thorn scrub, and has loved them all! She has a degree in biology and a masters in horticulture.

Date: Wednesdays in December

Time: 10:00- 11:00 am

Fee: Included in general admission.